Local Musicians and Bands

One of the earlier Bandmasters of any repute, was Claude R. Macfie who lived on the east side of the Red River. He started forming his Band in the late 1870’s and early 1880’s and by 1883 was playing to large crowds on both sides of the Red River. His group was basically a Brass Band.

The practices were held in the Macfie homestead on the east side and people used to walk all the way from Selkirk to join him. In winter they followed the river trail down and in summer they took the ferry across. Some of the members of the first orchestra were: R.H. Gilhuly, Edward Macfie, Magnus Spence, John P. Pruden, Robert Begg and Crest Holly, to name only a few.

By 1883 and 1884 they were playing to packed crowds in the surrounding area: Skating Carnivals, Costume Balls and other festive occasions. In 1883/84 he played a lot in the Town of Selkirk at the Colcleugh Block, picnics, races, sporting events, skating parties and cricket matches.

His band was basically a Brass Band and he could lead a large variety of selections which were crowd pleasers such as: Quadrilles, Polkas, Red River Jig, Waltzs, and Schottisches.

Claude was one of the early Councilors on the Council of the Municipality of St. Clements and very interested in the education of the young people on the east side. He was a great friend of the Alexander Butler Rowley family once they moved to the area. The Rowley family were very musical as well.

After Macfie’s Band was active for quite a few years, a gentleman by the name of Mr. Deeks, a Tailor, in the town of Selkirk, formed another Band in about 1895/96 and it was this group, I believe, that became the Selkirk Brass Band, eventually.

Submitted by slh.


Peter Bosko, a member of the Sailors orchestra, would like to mention some of the social highlights of “The Sailors” orchestra era  of the hungry thirties. The wonderful memories are of the old fashioned wedding receptions, which may have taken place in the couple’s local Community Halls, or at their country homes. Dancing platforms usually were built, it the wedding reception took place at the country home. Food for the invited guests was prepared by the host, with the help of relatives, and friends and many more volunteers, with willing hands. Food consisted of usually a large variety of meats – holubchi (with rice and some with buckwheat fillings), headcheese (homemade), and Saurkraut fried with kolbassa (sausage) was a must for the wedding guests’ appetites. Also, not to forget, bread (white and red ), and cakes and the pies. And, of course, the beverage was beer, which was supplied in large wooden kegs. Also, we must not forget, the country made alcohol spirits, yes, “country made”, and darn good stuff, too. No one even knew when the wedding reception (eating and dancing) would come to an end, or call it quits for that celebration. Many was the time, when the orchestra had to entertain the wedding guests outdoors. The orchestra members wished they had three arms, two arms to master their instruments, and one arm to wave off the mosquitos. The orchestra sure earned their reward, $1.50 per musician. Remembered, also, is of the numerous “surprise” wedding anniversary socials. Happy and exciting events they were, with the food supplied by relatives and friends, (catering of food for socials, probably wasn’t even heard of). “The Sailors” orchestra sure enjoyed the many Barn Dances of that era. It’s important to remember the combined Basket and Dance socials. Also the Dance and Pie socials, that was very much enjoyed by the country’s young and the older people. The crowd’s excitement was high, as the baskets of goodies were auctioned off to the highest bidder. The young girls took great care in arranging the pretty good baskets to compete for the highest bidder. Pie and Dance socials were conducted in the same manner as the Basket and Dance socials. ln the (good old days) tradition, the weddings were celebrated mostly on Sundays. “The Sailors” have entertained at many Bazaars, that drew large crowds, and a very sociable event that bazaar was of that era, in the 1930’s and the 1940’s.

Submitted by Peter Bosko.


I (Ernie Koterla, of Gonor, Man.) formed a dance band called “The Dreamers” around the year 1952. I played the violin and tenor saxophone. We played at dances mostly around Gonor, Selkirk and Tyndall. The Dreamers Orchestra lasted for about 10 years. Most of us read music well so it was quite easy for us to play the top songs on the hit parade as well as old time music. We were all teenagers when we started and sure enjoyed the orchestra. As time went on we got married and moved to various other locations thus ending the Dreamers Orchestra. Our parents were part of the orchestra.  Since none of us owned a car, we had to take turns in borrowing our fathers car (free of charge) and a tank lull of gas to go with it. All five musicians and instruments went in one car. One could imagine how small our music amplifiers were.

We always had no less than five musicians. Our main instruments were violin, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, guitar, accordian and drums. At the beginning of our music career of the Dreamers, we charged $55.00 a job for the whole orchestra.

Submitted by Ernie Koterla.


I, Ernie Koterla of Gonor, Man. played with the Continental Orchestra for about 2 years 1963 and 1964. I played the violin and tenor saxophone. We made a record in 1963 and in 1982 I still hear our record being played on the radio. We played mostly in Winnipeg and we went in for the saxophone sound, similar to Billy Vaughn and his Orchestra. However on our record we decided to go for the Polish sound. Most of our playing was done from written music orchestrations. Reading music well kept us together with ease.

Submitted by Ernie Koterla.


In December 1967, I, Ernie Koterla of Gonor, Man. joined the Interlake Polka King’s Orchestra. I quit in l9?1. I played the violin and Tenor Saxophone. Since the other musicians could not read music, and they had no music for me to play from, I had to learn their numbers by ear from their records or just by rehearsing with them. For the first 5 months. I learned and memorized about 40 numbers of theirs just by listening to their tapes and records. It sure was a tough job. If they had music for me to read from, it would have been easy for me to learn their numbers.

In 7 months time we got our act together and went on tour through Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta in August, 1968. We had a full house at just about every performance we made. Dan Chomlak, a radio announcer from Camrose, Alta. was our advertising and booking agent and also our M.C.

We catered mainly to the Ukrainian and Polish people, but we were quite pleased to notice that many other ethnic people enjoyed our music and stage shows.

We have played at weddings and socials at East Selkirk, Selkirk, Tyndall, Garson and for people from the R.M. of St. Clements who held their parties in Winnipeg dance halls.

I made a record with the Interlake Polka Kings in 1969.ln 1982 I still hear our record being played on the radio.

Submitted by Ernie Koterla.


In 1971 I, Ernie Koterla of Gonor, Man., joined the Mike Domish Band. I played violin and Tenor Saxophone. Some songs we played from written music and others we played by ear. The response from the crowds in the hotels was great. Most of our jobs were entertaining in hotels. Our popularity did not please my wife because we were so busy entertaining that my wife was usually at home with our children and without me.

Lorne Stanski of Wpg., the drummer, had been with Mike Domish Band for quite a few years before I joined, and in 1982 he is still with the band. I quit the Mike Domish Band around 1977 but in 1982 Mike Domish is Still going strong with the entertainment business and the odd time I still work with him; Mike Domish lives in Winnipeg.

Submitted by Ernie Koterla.


In 1916 in Gonor School, some of the boys were making their violins from cigar boxes, some used apple crate boards, etc. One day during noon hour at the back of the Gonor School house one boy by the name of Bill Dubowits played the violin he made which was about 12″ long. He was my age, about l2 years old. It sounded so good to me that I got very interested in music. I could not get any money from my parents because they were poor, like many others, so they couldn’t help me in music.

Next year, I got myself a beginners book of music notes. Bill Dubowits and I played duet on two violins. We decided that was not good enough so we decided to form an orchestra.

I sold my bicycle and bought a used Cornet for $15.00. Another boy, Harry Praznik had a clarinet so we began to practice in Bill’s 2 room house. I ordered correspondence Music lessons from the U.S. School of Music in New York, U.S.A. Next year I joined a membership in Leo Fiest Music Publisher in New York. We were getting once a month two latest musical  numbers or songs, printed music for a l6 piece orchestra. At that time some of the numbers we played were Margie, Peggy O’Neil, Last Nite on the Back Porch, Ramona, Barney Google, The west and Nest and You, Don’t Bring Lulu, It’s Three O’clock in the Morning, Yes, We Have No Bananas, Angry, Why Should I Cry Over You.

We needed a drummer so Bill and I went to Eatons Music Dept. to buy a set of drums. we did not have much money in our pockets so when we spotted a drum outfit we liked, by looking it over we discovered a few minor defects in the base drum shell. We pointed this out to a clerk. They reduced the price from $125.00 to $75.00, because of the defects.

We all played by notes and any one of us musicians, when we went to Winnipeg, we usually came back with a new number to play. lf some numbers were not available in Orchestration sheets, we’d buy piano sheet music and I  would transpose for our different instruments.

About 1918, Bill bought a Tenor Banjo and Harry bought a Tenor Saxophone. Mike Dubowits played the drums. Friends used to come and listen to us practicing music until about l0:00 or 1l:00 PM. We also bought nine Polish Music albums for each player from Shejewski Music Publishers in  Buffalo, New York, U.S.A.

Our first dance job was in 1919 and we played in the Gonor Hall attached to the schoolhouse. Later on we played in surrounding districts at dances, socials, weddings and at picnic grounds. It was a four piece band and we named it the “Moonlight Orchestra”. In local dance halls they used to put up a concert or a dialog from 8 PM. to l0 PM. This way they had older folks come and enjoy an evening. After 10 PM the benches were removed and the people danced until 2:00 AM. If the crowd was big we would play until 3:00 AM and finish up with a waltz called “it’s Three O’clock in the Morning” and ending with “Home Sweet Home”. The admission fee was 250 for ladies and 35c for men. At the most, we got paid $3.00 each and in some cases if the weather was bad and the crowd turnout was small, we only got $1.50 or even $1.00 each. For playing weddings we would get $10.00 to $12.00 each. In some districts, weddings were a 3 day affair. First we would play in the evening until long after midnight then next day was a wedding day. A third day the orchestra would start playing about noon until after supper. There was one wedding that we will never forget. We were hired to play at a wedding in Walkleyburg, about 20 miles from our home, and they promised to supply transportation there and back. They sent one farmer with a team of horses and sleighs and it was about 40 below in January. We started playing about 7 or 8 PM. and played until early morning. A few drunks kept bugging us to keep playing. This was a two room house. The next day was a wedding day and again we played until late after midnight. Next day they drove us back home, We were all tired, worn out and disgusted and we only got about $12.00 each.

In 1925, our band went to Fort William, Ont. as I knew the city well, so we got there with hopes to get a job of any kind and play in the orchestra as a side job. We stopped at one apartment block with a restaurant on the ground floor. I knew the owner well and he said that he would see that all four of us got a steady day job. At that time jobs were very scarce. The following Sunday he told us to play during the noon hour good and loud when we were in our rehearsal room as he was expecting some of the company’s big brass for dinner, so we did.

The next morning we got the job working in the CNR yards. One hot summer day, the foreman took two of our group to unload a carload of Railway ties that were treated in tar and oil. The boys went ahead and did the job as they were determined to hold the jobs. At the end of that day they came home from work with their clothes covered with tar and oil so badly that they could not be worn anymore. Their hands had to be washed in coal-oil to get the tar off. In the mean time we got some bookings for our orchestra to play jobs like we did around home.

We increased our band, to six musicians or a 6 piece “Moonlight  Orchestra”. One new member, Martin Yarema was a very good slide Trombone player and another man, Edward Pyech was a very good clarinet player and was also a music composer. He composed some Polish numbers and sold them to Music Publishers in the U.S.A. we were quite busy with playing jobs.

One day, our Violinist and Banjo Player, Bill Dubowits and clarinet player Edward Pyech went browsing around in town. They stopped in a Drug Store, Bill was a thin built boy weighing about 140 lbs. He wanted something to build some weight on him, so he bought a 26 oz. of “Trimmers Bitter Wine” which was supposed to be a body builder. Edward Pyech looked at this, and having a great liking for liquor, he bought himself a bottle also, which he didn’t need since he was a well built man and in good health. When they returned to their rooms, Bill took one tablespoon full of this wine as prescribed, but Edward liking his liquor, he took two or three spoonfulls and said it’s only wine, not a medicine, then he took a half a cup full and another cup full. Finally he said “If this is supposed to help, so let it help”. He lifted the bottle up and drank the rest of it. That evening we all picked up our instruments and went to play, all but Edward, who stayed back and was not able ,o leave the washroom. He rat there all night murmuring and cursing that bottle of weight builder wine he drank.

In December 1925, I left the “Moonlight Orchestra” and went to International Falls, Minnesota, U.S,A. with only a few dollars in my pocket and stayed with my brother John. As soon as I got there I formed a four piece band. The musicians were well known in that small town.

There was a vacant Dance Hall that had not been in use for a long period of time. I rented that hall at a very reasonable rent. We played three nights a week. The admission we charged was Gents $1.00 and ladies free admission. The girls were given a drawing number at the door. The lucky numbers were drawn at l0:00 PM, I 1:00 PM, and 12:00 PM. The prizes were a l-lb box of chocolates. We had a steady ad in the daily paper. In a week’s time we had that hall full 3 days a week. We kept it up until April. I then quit and went to Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A. where my brothers Bill and Pete lived.

Now in 1982, Bill, Harry and I are not playing any more, as our age is creeping up on us. Mike Dubowits, the drummer, passed away about 5 years ago. The music is still in the family. Bill’s son Lesley Dubowits plays Saxophone and trumpet. My son Ernie Koterla plays Violin and Tenor Saxophone and made some recording albums. Also his two daughters, my granddaughters play instruments. In 1982 Tammy Koterla is taking Grade 3 Classical guitar and Tracey Koterla is taking Grade 8 Classical Piano. Both are with the Royal Conservatory of Music lrom the University of Toronto.

My Grandson, Shawn Nerbus at the age of 10 wanted to be a Trumpet Player, so I gave him my trumpet. Shawn and his parents Bill and Noreen live on the Vancouver Island.  ln 1982, Shawn is l5 years old and is playing in a school band and city brass band.

I have another grandson Jody Wesley, son of Evelyn Wesley (nee Koterla) and the late Frank Wesley of Selkirk. Man. and who resided in East Selkirk for several years. At the age of about it, Jody wanted to play the accordion, one his mother kept and which his father used to play. it was too heavy for him so I bought him a lighter accordion, a 120 base accordion. He took lessons once a week. Now that he is 14, he plays like a pro on his father’s full size accordion. He also plays in the Lockport School Band on Elto Saxophone. About 3 months ago his sister Sherry Wesley was getting married and he played the Wedding March and a couple of dances. He sounded like an advanced musician and guests gave him tips which amounted to over one hundred dollars. Was he ever happy. He said that he will pay for his lessons with his earned money.

As I say “after I’m gone I might be forgotten but Music will never die”.

Submitted by George Koterla.

Posted in Dance and Musical Organizations.